My new memoir is out March 1 from Hawthorne Books. I hope you like it.
My new memoir is out March 1 from Hawthorne Books. I hope you like it.
Or Why I’m Re-Launching a Paper Magazine When Everyone’s Crying that Print is Dead
I like the internet as much as the next blogger. I don’t think online media is making us any dumber than we already are. But the internet will never replace print media for me. I love the look of print. I love the feel of print. I love the smell of print. And I’m irritated by exaggerated reports about the death of print.
Brainless print publications that were only in business to chase advertising dollars might be dying a long-overdue death, but if I have anything to say about it, print itself lives.
I started my first print zine, Hip Mama, when I was in college. I passed it along a few years ago, but when I heard that the new publishers were on the brink of going completely digital, I dropped my other projects and decided to reclaim my magazine.
Because print’s not dead to me. None of us needs more screen time. We need tactile, homemade media we can hold in our hands–the kind of media that allows for rumination and slow-sprouting inspiration, not just quick comments and e-fights.
No, print’s not dead. To me, print will always mean life. Yep, I love print. Let me count the ways.
Print Gets Your Hands Dirty.
I’ve never had a traditional 9 to 5 job, but I’ve been working all of my life. I earned my first paychecks by folding and delivering the San Francisco Chronicle in the dark hours of morning. I landed the job when I was eight years old. And for the next six years, my hands were black with the ink of news and self-reliance.
Print Lets Me Unplug My Ego.
When I’m reading a great story online, I sometimes “share” it before I’ve even gotten to the end. My “friends”–many of whom I’ve never met–“like” it while I’m still reading. By the time I get to the last line I’ve already got a couple of comments complimenting me on my fine taste in stories. This makes me feel important and well-connected. Now, what was that great story about?
Print is Intimate.
All media is communication. But reading black marks on a page is the most intimate form of communication that exists. Social media never really mitigates my existential loneliness. But somehow even alone in a candle-lit cave in Tibet, if I’m reading the words of a dead feminist poet, there can be no isolation.
Print Remembers Where it Came From.
I have a lot of my mother’s books. I have some of my grandmother’s books. I even have a few of my great-grandmother’s books. I love it when I stumble on a particular passage that one of them has underlined. Sometime I recognize their shaky handwritten notes in the margins. My mother tended to underline in black. My grandmother preferred red. My great-grandmother used a pencil, but I’ll never erase her words.
Print Gets Warped and Dog-Eared.
A few years back, I edited and published an anthology called Portland Queer. I had it printed and bound old-school by at the local anarchist Eberhardt Press in Portland. It wouldn’t have cost me anything more to produce a digital edition, but I didn’t bother. The first printing of Portland Queer sold out within a few weeks. The collection won a LAMBDA Literary Award. But nothing filled my heart with quite the same pride as seeing a bathtub-warped and dog-eared copy of the book in someone’s bathroom in faraway Santa Fe. Yes, you can read print while you soak in the tub. (Trust me, it’s a very poor idea to take your iPhone into the bathtub).
Print is Sexy.
When my girlfriend’s in bed with her reading glasses on and a book in her hands– that’s sexy. When she’s sitting there squinting at her iPhone, well–not so much–then I just think she’s having an emotional affair on Facebook.
Print Survives the Apocalypse.
I was raised among hippies who perpetually insisted that the shit was about to hit the fan, man, the grid was going down, and civilization would soon collapse into unplugged utopian chaos. My apocalypse survival pack includes a Haruki Murakami book, a copy of the latest Lucky Peach magazine, and a mini letterpress set for emergency zine-making. When the world as we know it ends and we’re all refugees trudging toward an unknown future, I won’t be carrying my laptop.
Print Keeps Our Secrets.
If I read something online, my reading is tracked and tallied by the Big Brother internet brain that targets my tastes and sends ads chasing me from Google to Youtube and back again. But unless I order it from Amazon, hardly anyone can guess what I’m reading in print. And stealthy education, it turns out, is what books were invented for. Up until the third or fourth century A.D., Europeans had to unroll their books to read them. Scrolls evolved into folded pages. Eventually folded pages became gathered pages–what we now call books. Why books instead of scrolls? Early rebel Christians found them smaller and therefore more convenient when it came to keeping spiritual texts hidden from Roman authorities. Plans for the revolution will not go viral.
Print Lives. And Keeps on Living.
This isn’t the first time print media has been declared dead. Back in the ’60s, people without imagination were sure television spelled the end of print. My old journalism professor, Clay Felker, responded by reinventing the American magazine–not with short, ultra-visual media that imitated TV, but with long-narrative and novelistic-style writing that added layers of emotional depth to traditional reporting. He had no problem with the internet. He appreciated online media’s ability to focus on psychographic communities over demographic communities. But new media didn’t mean the death of the old–to each its own narrative style.
Print Doesn’t Get Jealous.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being a purist or a luddite, let me say again that I don’t hate the internet. Lucky for me, print doesn’t care if I watch TV or waste a night reading the Buzzfeed. In fact, I’m relying on new-fangled online crowdfunding at Kickstarter to make sure print lives. Click to it: http://kck.st/13xMuVp See? Print didn’t mind that at all.
I made a new zine called On the Mend. It fits in your pocket and has stories and drawings and recipes for pie and cupcakes and New Mexican red chile sauce. Not to mention advice from Punk Rock Miss Manners…
You can get a copy for $4 (free shipping). Beautifully printed by Scout Books at Pinball Publishing in Portland, Oregon. Thanks for ordering.
Watch the video about the book right here:
You can buy the Lambda Award-winning anthology right here!
“As rough-hewn and gorgeous as the city that inspired it, this anthology breaks queer ground as it shows us that everywhere is Portland—but Portland is its own special place, home to queers seeking and finding home, from the city itself to each others’ arms.”
If you don’t like Paypal, you can always mail a check to Lit Star Press, 8 Bisbee Ct. #109 PMB 21, Santa Fe, NM, 87508.
Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City has won the Lambda Literary Award for best LGBT anthology of the year. How rad is that? Congratulations to all the writers – y’all make me proud.
New Blog at Psychology Today
Sonoma County, 1991
If I wanted to be a writer, I realized, I would have to go where the writers were.
I had to find these people.
I had to seek them out and be in their presence and inhale the air they exhaled.
I had to learn from them.
And here was my chance. I saw the ad in the local alternative weekly: An evening with Anne Lamott and Amy Tan. These were maybe the two most powerful thirty-something or forty-something women in the San Francisco literary scene. Anne Lamott and Amy Tan. They would be my foremothers, my teachers. If only I could share this evening with them. Yes.
I had to be there, obviously.
Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.
$150 per person.
I hardly ever drove into the city.
It meant getting Lance to watch the baby. He’d come to California now, too. He lived four blocks from us, was suing me for custody.
It meant the gas and the bridge toll.
It meant tapping the dashboard three times and praying that the Dodge would make it.
This time, it also meant $150.
$150. Just over a quarter of my monthly income.
But what was $150, really? What was a quarter tank of gas and a quarter of my monthly income and a $3 bridge toll when it would make me a writer?
I would meet these women and they would see me—they would see the writer in me and they would lean into me and they would whisper the secrets that writers whisper.
The ad—even seeing that ad—had been destiny. Clearly. I hardly ever read that weekly paper.
I had $21 in the cookie jar for my gas and electricity bill. I only needed another $129 for the ticket. The gas and electric company could wait. If we had to live in the dark for a week or three weeks—what did it matter? This evening was the thing that mattered. An evening with Anne Lamott and Amy Tan.
I showed the ad to Mary, the old woman who’d recently moved into my neighborhood in Petaluma. I bounced Maia on my knee as I opened the newspaper on Mary’s formica kitchen table. I pointed. “Anne Lamott and Amy Tan,” I hummed. I’d been helping Mary around her little government apartment, putting away groceries for her, pulling weeds in her tiny front garden. We’d shared Christmas dinner. I’d invited her over after the man from the food bank called to tell me I was eligible for a free turkey. When I went to pick it up, it turned out to be two chickens—they’d run out of turkeys. But I had some vegetables in the fridge, so I made chicken soup for Christmas dinner and I didn’t skim off the fat. Chicken soup for me and Mary and the baby. We sat in the little dining alcove in my apartment, and she told me this and that about her life. She was Athabaskan Indian, she said. Born up in Alaska but her mother died of tuberculosis and she was adopted out to a white family down in Seattle.
Mary. She had short, black hair and laughing eyes. She looked at the ad for the evening with the writers and said, “sounds like a lot of money.”
But what did Mary know?
She was poor, she was old.
I knew what I had to do.
It was a clear-sky day in Petaluma.
I got Lance to watch the baby.
I used my bill money for the gas and the bridge.
Tom Waits sang “Hang on St. Christopher” on my car radio.
I used the rent money for the ticket.
Amy Tan read something unpublished and showed slides of her grandparents.
Anne Lamott said she’d been a black-belt codependent and had just broken up with a man who wasn’t fit to drink her bath water.
Afterwards, the writers drank punch around a table and people approached them and told them they loved their work and told them they’d changed their lives and told them they liked the talks they’d just given.
I stood against a wall and watched.
I stood against a wall and watched the light change as the sun set over the bay.
I stood against a wall and bit my fingernails.
I cried at Mary’s kitchen table the next morning, cried at what an idiot I’d been. The rain poured outside, flooding the streets and walkways. I would never be a writer, it was true. That counselor in her drab brown office back at the junior college had been right. What was I thinking? I had to come down to earth. This wet earth. I had to figure out how to make a living. I had to figure out how to live. I had a child to take care of.
Mary just smiled at me, shook her head the way she did. “Ariel,” she said. “You are with the writers. Right now and right here you’re with the writers. And here we’re doing the things that writers do. We’re washing the dishes and we’re putting away the groceries. We’re helping each other. We’re paying attention, aren’t we?”
I thought she was sweet, old Athabaskan Mary, but obviously she was kind of doddery. Helping Mary around her apartment was all good and fine, but it was hardly where the writers were. And I wanted to be a writer. My mind wandered. I was back at Fort Mason. Back with the writers and thinking of all the things I might have said to them if I wasn’t so afraid. If they had looked at me.
“I have something for you,” Mary said, interrupting my writer-thought. She stood up, left me there to breathe in my self-pity.
A few minutes later she came back with a slim volume. A Quick Brush of Wings by Mary TallMountain. “My new book,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to give you a copy.”
I looked at the title and I looked at the author’s name for a long time before I let it sink in.
And with that she leaned into me and she whispered the secrets that writers whisper. And I breathed her in and I became one.
Sounds like me on a triple espresso…